UNCW slides further down CAA ladder

McGrath: “Defense is where we have to make a lot of progress.”


Noah Powers/The Seahawk

Jeantal Cylla (2) goes up to the rim during UNCW’s Homecoming matchup against James Madison on Feb. 2, 2019.

Brandon Sans, Sports Editor

UNC Wilmington men’s basketball was unable to provide the Trask Coliseum homecoming crowd with a win in its 104-95 loss to James Madison on Friday night.

There were 13 lead changes and seven ties in the contest that went back and forth before the Dukes pulled away late in the second half to avenge their early season loss to the Seahawks. 

Falling short

UNCW (8-16, 4-7) appeared to turn a corner when it won three of its first five Colonial Athletic Association games. Since then, it has lost five of six games to place itself near the bottom of the conference.

The only team that looks up at the Seahawks are the Dukes (10-14, 3-8 CAA) and even that could be flipped had the two teams’ first meeting went differently. The Seahawks escaped Harrisburg as an 86-83 double-overtime winner that was the sort of close game good teams tend to win.

The Seahawks allowed the Dukes to shoot 52.6 percent from three-point range, about 16 percent more than their usual 37 percent average. Even though the Seahawks exited the first half on a 14-2 run that gave them a four-point lead, the Dukes stayed in the game and put the game away on the free throw line, going 30-for-33.

UNCW switched up its defensive looks in an attempt to throw JMU out of rhythm. The Dukes were allowed a few wide-open looks, but they made a lot of well-defended shots that add to the Seahawks’ frustrations.

“The guys were trying hard tonight. It just didn’t work out,” said coach C.B. McGrath. “It’s unfortunate. They really did compete. I don’t fault anybody’s effort at all. We just didn’t get the stops we needed to.”

Home court attacked

Two road losses to CAA-leaders Hofstra and Northeastern were understandable. The Seahawks had four straight home games in a crowded conference that could have provided a cushion if they took advantage of it.

Instead, UNCW’s four opponents (William & Mary, Elon, Towson and JMU) shot a combined 62 percent from the field and 41 percent from beyond the arc. UNCW went 1-3 over the stretch and would join JMU in the CAA tournament play-in game if the season ended today.

If the Seahawks hope to avoid the play-in game (and potential fallout if they were to lose it), they must close out the season strong. To do that, UNCW must play better than its 2-7 road record as five of its last seven games are on the road.

“The season isn’t over,” said redshirt junior Jeantal Cylla. “In the middle of the [CAA], it’s pretty much equal. Come tournament time the hottest team: the team that comes in with a defensive mindset. We have no doubt in our mind we can still win it all.”

Bounce back 

The Seahawks are accustomed to double-doubles from senior forward Devontae Cacok (12 points, 13 rebounds) or scoring outbursts from sophomore guard Ty Gadsden (24 points, 3-for-5 from three), but other players showed signs of life in the loss.

Cylla scored 20 points after combining for 24 points the three other games of the homestand while junior guard Jaylen Fornes’ 14 points off the bench were his second straight double-figure mark after missing it in nine of the 10 prior games.

Attribute the turnaround to renewed defensive and rebounding energy. Both players got involved in other ways that allowed them to be more confident on the offensive end.

“We’re going to have to work this week to get a lot better defensively,” said McGrath. “Offensively, that’s going to come. It helps to do other things and get involved in other ways than just making shots.”